Sunday, February 25, 2024

Junior World Cup showed Pakistan promise, but support still lacking

Pakistan compete for place at Paris 2024 Olympics, but years of mismanagement continues to hinder once great nation on global hockey fields

In medical science a human tissue lacking any blood supply is faced with only one circumstance, it starts to die out, writes Dr Adnan Khalid.

Pakistan hockey over the past 13 years has faced a similar fate, with choking up of its finances and lack of funds to support up and coming players. Since 2008 Pakistan hockey has seen a dramatic fall by missing out in participation of the world cup twice and similarly at the Olympics. I will not reminisce the rich history which everyone associates with Pakistan hockey.

At this point I forgot to add that once a tissue dies out, it needs to be surgically removed to prevent the rest of the body from getting infected and going into shock. The shock for Pakistan had already been too great and unbearable, added in part by the mismanagement that is Pakistan Hockey Federation.

The same Olympians who had helped Pakistan reach the zenith in terms of success were responsible for its undoing and for politicising the whole structure resulting in office bearers and those outside the administration fighting each other for control of the management.

Case in point is the FIH taking back an earlier awarded Olympic qualification tournament which was to be held in Lahore because of undue interference in the management of affairs at the Pakistan Hockey federation. This meant that Pakistan was unable to hold an FIH sanctioned tournament in Pakistan for first time since 2004.

While all this was running in the background, a regeneration was taking place silently within the junior Pakistan hockey team against all odds.

I say this because in the past five years alone there have been numerous different coaches who have come and gone, with the hockey teams both at senior and junior levels falling in the rankings. The players have had only a handful of opportunities to play against other top international teams. So, when the junior hockey team reached the Asia Cup, no one fancied them to even reach semifinals.

These group of players were able to not only reach the final where they only lost narrowly to India but also in the process gained qualification to the Junior hockey world cup currently being played in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Ashley Jackson (white) in action against Pakistan

The role played by Adnan Zakir an ex-Pakistan hockey player was immense, he returned from England to coach the team. He spent a good enough time with the team before the Asia cup to be able to deploy modern hockey techniques and have players included on merit. He again had to resign due to interference and move out because he could not compromise on principles of having deserving players in team on merit.

Adnan is currently resident in England and playing a key role in development of juniors at local clubs. His departure saw the arrival of Roelant Oltamans, who has been a coach of senior Pakistan hockey teams in the past but is only with the team during tournaments and not during the entirety of training camps for lack of funds.

They further enhanced their performance during the invitational Sultan of Johor cup, where they finished fourth but not before reaching the semi-finals and fighting a close match with Australians. The world was starting to take notice of this change coming out of Pakistan hockey. The next role they had to play was at the Junior World cCp, where they found themselves in the group of death because it contained Netherlands and Belgium both much higher ranked teams at 4th and 5th.

Coming into the Junior World Cup no one had given them the chance to progress out of the group for quarter finals. In face of such strong adversaries the 12th ranked team played through shear grit and determination to win over New Zealand and hold both the far superior Dutch and Belgians to draws and in the process qualify for the quarter-finals on better goal average coming second in their group.

These are players who without any investment, financial reward or benefit and lack of proper domestic structure, have been able to match the performance of the best hockey teams in the world with a hundred times better infrastructure and investment in domestic hockey. The regeneration I mentioned is ready to take hold but only if the Pakistan hockey federation can nurture these young talented players and groom their skills further.

Unfortunately, Pakistan hockey needs investment and a public private partnership sponsoring these players future endeavors is the need of the hour.

Dr. Adnan Khalid has been an enthusiastic supporter of Pakistan hockey over many years

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